How well are we considering nature in covid recovery plans in Africa?

Harriet Davies-Mostert, EWT Head of Conservation, harrietd@ewt.org.za

Panel Discussion, IUCN Global Virtual Members’ Conference on Nature-based Recovery

1 February 2022

The Covid-19 pandemic triggered a global economic crisis, and Africa’s GDP shrank by 2.1% in 2020, its worst recession in more than five decades. Southern Africa was hardest hit, with an economic contraction of 7%. Food insecurity and debt have been rising, and many development gains are being lost. The African Development Bank estimates that Covid-19 has increased the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, with as many as 38.7 million more Africans sliding into this category.

As in other parts of the world, immediate responses to the pandemic have been to focus on containing the virus, addressing the immediate health crisis, and limiting economic fallout. But a large part of the conversation has also been about the pandemic, which represents an opportunity to shift our economic models onto a greener and more inclusive trajectory.

Africa is home to tremendous biodiversity and natural resources, but these are experiencing dramatic losses due to agricultural expansion, overharvesting, alien invasive species, pollution, and climate change. It is vital that governments use post-Covid recovery spending to meet economic objectives like jobs, health, education, and economic growth – while also meeting the environmental goal of a greener, inclusive, and sustainable development trajectory.

As part of broader recovery efforts on the African continent, the African Union Commission launched a 5-year Green Recovery Action Plan in July 2021. This plan aims to ramp up action on five priority areas, including improving climate finance; supporting the just transition to renewable energy; nature-based solutions and a focus on biodiversity; resilient agriculture; and green and resilient cities.

To support this action plan, the African Ministerial Conference on the environment adopted the African Green Stimulus Programme, which seeks to address the socio-economic and environmental impacts of the pandemic and to unlock and harness the opportunities which a sustainable approach can bring for the continent of Africa.

An online platform was launched in September 2021 to support the roll-out of the stimulus programme. However, there is still a lot of work to be done. The programme aims to mobilise sufficient, additional resources and the effective use of these resources to implement a diverse portfolio of initiatives. And it will only be able to deliver impactful results at scale when these resources materialise.

Several grants have been made towards promoting green and inclusive recovery. For example, GIZ recently approved an award of nearly 1 million euros to a consortium led by South African National Parks to support Covid-19 relief efforts along the boundary of Kruger National Park in South Africa. This programme will support sustainable supply chains, enterprise development, green entrepreneurship, and responsible resource use to drive sustainable jobs and livelihoods.

Nature-based tourism was one of the main casualties of the economic shutdowns, and there have been many grants and green recovery initiatives aimed at recovering this critical sector.

The African Nature-Based Tourism Platform was initiated in April last year with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to forge connections between funders and communities, nature-based tourism enterprises, and conservation areas in southern and eastern Africa. The 3-year project aims to mobilise at least $15 million. The platform gathers data on the impacts of COVID-19 on local communities and small businesses in the nature-based tourism sector and shares this information to unlock funding streams that will bring greater resilience to nature-based tourism in the future.

While Africa’s agenda 2063 aims to industrialise the continent, there is widespread recognition and commitment that this must be done in a low carbon, nature-positive way. We need a new paradigm for development that centres on sustainable development and building forward better. And this isn’t just because it’s the right thing to do: for example, work done by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa shows that in South Africa, investing in the green economy and nature-based solutions provides 250% more jobs than investing in similar fossil-fuel-based industries. So investment in nature-based economies and nature-based solutions in Africa makes good business sense.

Most of us would agree that post-covid recovery packages have failed to incorporate nature in the seismic way that many of us had hoped they would at the start of the pandemic. Our region has some excellent and ambitious programmes and initiatives, but they remain largely underfunded and under-capacitated. Most African countries cannot raise money from their own economies to implement their recovery plans, and the cost of finance is disproportionately high for African countries compared to more developed nations. Global financial flows, from both the public and private sectors, need to be unlocked to ensure that development in Africa moves along a pathway in which people can have sustainable livelihoods without exacerbating the climate and biodiversity crises.

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